Sunday, December 04, 2011

of names and lizards

Over the past few weeks, my running consistency has not been what it should be. Mostly I’ve run 3 times, one week only twice, I think—one run during the week and a run on Saturday and another Sunday. During the week, I just sort of “haven’t felt like it” or something. Partly I think that taking time off to rest my Achilles and then the tendonitis on the top of my right foot got me out of the habit somewhat. And it seems that the weekend runs are a bit harder on my feet as a result. So, my plan this week is to run more frequently, but shorter runs. Ideally, I’d like to run every day, at least a mile or two, but we’ll see how it really pans out. I’m hoping giving myself permission to run shorter (rather than having to do an hour every time), will get me out the door. I always feel better when I get out there.

 

Yesterday (Saturday), I ran eight miles, but I had to get off the pavement around mile 5 or so because it just got too hot for my tootsies. I like to laze around a bit on the weekends, but this can put a crimp in my plans because if the sun is out, the tarmac is really too hot to run on by 9:30 or 10:00am. Though I’ve pushed it until I cannot stand it anymore, I don’t think this is the wisest move. Last week on Sunday, even wearing huarache sandals and running on the sandy trail gave little relief. Fortunately, this week it had just rained Friday night, so the trail was cooler.

 

Today, it was totally overcast (yippee!) when I went out and I decided to do a trail run, for the first time in weeks and weeks. This was my longest barefoot run yet at 10 miles. I ran into the sunshine around 4 miles, so those middle two miles I was pretty hot, but then I ran back into the clouds which I really appreciated. The path had a great diversity of textures—about as much diversity as one can get around here—soft and hard sand, some sandy mud, dirt, grass and some rocky bits. Very nice. I didn’t get any blisters, but I did have some “friction” marks, reminding me that these trails let me get a bit lax with my form.

 

Best Positive Exchange: Yesterday, while running back on the trail that parallels the road, I ran into two young girls. I said hello (it is pretty rare to see young girls out just playing) and to my great surprise, they started to run with me! As readers know, I’ve had this happen with boys, but never before with girls. They were Anna and Giai (spelling?). I cannot really figure out how to spell the second name. She pronounced it with a very soft G and a long I – like “shy” except starting with a soft G sound. It just hit me like one of the most beautiful names I’d ever heard! For the past year or so, I’ve been pondering the possibility of changing my name and, if I could figure out how to spell it, I think I may have found my new name! At any rate, they were very sweet girls, about 10 years old, I think. They ran with me for about half a mile talking to each other along the way in amazement, clearly about me. Were they surprised to see a woman running? Or that I was barefoot? Or that I was white? Or the whole combo of a white woman barefoot? Either way, I was happy to make their acquaintance and give them a different image of what a woman can be.

 

Sunday was a much more solitary run. Two miles into this trail, I turn onto a path that is pretty much deserted except for the two weeks in August that the Seventh Day Adventist Church is using their camp out that way. I did run into some very fresh foot prints, but never found the people that belonged to them. However, on my way back, I encountered one of the coolest lizards I’ve ever seen! He was neon lime green with black circles like leopard spots. His head was roundish, like a chameleon, but he was very small. I looked him up in my guidebook, but he wasn’t listed. I ran over him and then stopped to watch him (hmm, or her?) and he was walking painfully slowly. He’d lift his right front leg and his left back leg and then they would both move forward and touch down, then he’d raise the left front leg and right back leg. . . Luckily there weren’t any cars around ‘cause he’d surely be squished at the rate he was moving. But geez, he was really beautiful. I kept looking at him and saying, “ah geez, I wish I had a camera!”

 

Friday, December 02, 2011

The 100 Up experiment

I can’t believe today marks 3 weeks into the 100 Up experiment. And it is pretty amazing how many people are doing it. On the Facebook group alone, there are well over 300 people.

 

There are two types of 100 Ups, the “minors” and the “majors”. The minors are basically walking and the majors running (in both cases “in place”). I have been doing both on most days because they are very different. The minors are slower and more controlled. It is easier to concentrate on my form. They are also less effort, so when I am feeling lazy and “don’t wanna”, I just tell myself to do the minors and that gets me going. But when I do the minors, they are still very “jerky”—there’s some way that my foot lands on the ground and the next one comes up which is not smooth. But I have definitely improved over the course of the weeks. At first, my right foot was coming down consistently behind my left foot and they are now even. I’ve also felt “smooth” a couple of times—a glance into what is possible.

 

I find the majors overall easier, though. And quicker! I’m lighter on my feet and somehow more fluid. Again, there have been some changes as the weeks have gone along. As I discovered through running barefoot, for me all the action is in my hips. For proper form, I need to focus on tilting the top of my pelvis forward. (To me, this feels like I’m sticking my butt out, but when I look in the mirror, I’m actually barely straight. . .) This action has my feet come down under my center of gravity and helps to keep my feet from “scraping” the ground. This has changed and been reinforced by doing the 100 Up majors. When I started out, I was just basically lifting my knees high. But this tilted my pelvis under and rounded my lower back and had my feet land in front of my body. One day, I experimented with keeping my arms down by my sides (because I had read that the guy who “invented” the 100 Up said that is how you should do them) and suddenly, I had to change my pelvis or I would fall backwards.

 

Have I seen any benefits?

 

I’m not sure, but I’m holding off assessment at least until the 30 days are up. I had hoped that my barefoot running form would improve, allowing me to run longer and faster. I did really hope that they would help me go faster. Though I cannot say that I’ve seen any difference on that front. Ever since running with the heart rate monitor, barefoot and breathing through my nose, I don’t think I’ve improved at all. I just looked at a graph of my runs for the last 3 months since I started this and maybe I have improved my average pace from about 11:30 min/mi to 11:00 min/mi but, hmm, I am really hoping my “easy” pace could be more like 10:00 min/mi. And I thought 10-12 weeks would show more improvement. But my consistency has not been great the last few weeks. I strained my Achilles tendon (my calf got so tight it was pulling on the Achilles tendon) and then I had some kind of tendonitis on the top of my other foot. So maybe I just need to be more patient? Not my strong suit.

Barefoot beauty

aka foot porn ;-)

 

Thought I’d share what my feet look like, in case any of you were worried that your feet get all gnarly and nasty from barefooting. Au contraire!

 

 

Friday, November 11, 2011

The 100 Up Challenge

If you read Christopher McDougall’s latest article in the New York Times, “The Once and Future Way to Run” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/magazine/running-christopher-mcdougall.html, then you have heard of the 100 Up. In the article, he talks about this exercise used by W. G. George in the late 19th Century to become one of the best milers in the world.

 

It is very simple. You basically do 100 (that is, 50 on each leg) high knee raises each day.

 

Within minutes, it seemed, one guy threw up a website: http://hundredup.com and another created a Facebook group: http://www.facebook.com/groups/274754402564073/ both with the idea to get a bunch of people to try this for 30-days. So, I joined the FB group and I’m going to give it a try. Will it make me stronger? Will it improve my form? Will it make me faster? We shall see.

 

This morning, I was just jumping around a bit to loosen up before my run and realized that I had done 10 “Ups” without even thinking about it, so I just continued and did 100 (of the “major” version). I was surprised because I thought they’d be harder and that I would have to start with the “minor” version, but there you go. So, one day down, twenty-nine to go!

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Best Postive Exchange

Thanks to Caity at Run Barefoot Girl (www.runbarefootgirl.com), I’ve just gotten turned on to the Naked Runners Podcast (www.thenakedrunners.com). The Naked Runners are a couple of Australian guys (and boy, I am learning so much Australian slang!) on a mission to encourage people to run “naked” by which they mean without distractions. (I think they’d love to encourage people to actually run naked, from their personalities, but they are respectful of societal standards and laws about wearing clothing. . . J) They run barefoot or minimalist themselves, but beyond that, they want you to ditch the iPod and the watch and the heartrate monitor, to “strip it back” and “ditch the distractions.” Totally in line with my movement towards minimalism, to getting back to the essentials.

 

Yikes! This is really the next level for me. I am very attached to both my iPod and my Garmin and I have very good reasons for using these when I run. I love music and my runs are *the* time I get to listen to music. My Garmin is an invaluable tool for someone who travels as much as I do and currently I am using the heartrate monitor (for the first time in my life) to teach myself to run aerobically. Personally, I thought I was good because I don’t, and never have, run with a phone! But these guys are very enrolling, so I may just try “running naked” this week. . .

 

One of the features on their podcast is the “Best Positive Exchange” (BPE) – that is, sharing an exchange with someone you encounter on your run. I love that, so I will be reporting in each post on a BPE I’ve had on one of my runs.

 

This week, my Best Positive Exchange was with Noel. One of the joys of my Saturday morning run is that there are kids out and about just playing. So now for the second time in recent weeks, I’ve been joined by a couple of boys who actually ran along with me. This time, one boy started running with me and there were two others who at first laughed, but then joined along as well. I wasn’t running very fast, but they were young boys and pretty small—maybe half my height—so they were breathing a bit hard as we ran along. I have to say that I was pretty chuffed by that—that I was in good enough shape that running barefoot, nose breathing, at a pace where I could have been talking the whole time, I was running a bit too fast for these boys. Not bad for an old lady. Anyway, Noel was the first boy who joined me and after half a mile when they were stopping, he said thank you! I stopped, turned, shook his hand and thanked him as well.

 

Today’s run was great overall. I ran 8 miles on the road, which is the most I’ve done barefoot on the roads. Yippee! It felt like I took my feet just to the edge, but not over, so that is perfect.

 

The other great thing about today’s run was clouds! The sky was totally overcast until a few minutes after the end of my run (how is that for timing?!) which meant that it was much cooler than it has been for weeks. I don’t think it was over 80F, which is 20-24F less than it has been since the beginning of October. Very much appreciated. And it meant that I didn’t suffer even though I lolled around and didn’t get out for my run until after 9am. Would that tomorrow will be the same!

 

I’m going to Windhoek Monday for the VSO Regional Representatives meeting and 21st Anniversary celebration. It is much, much cooler there. The days will hopefully warm up (weather forecast says ~75F), but the low I predicted to be in the 50’sF which is scary enough that I’m going to bring my Moc3 shoes and my arm sleeves for running in the early morning.

 

Friday, November 04, 2011

Great summary of the Paleo/Primal template

Tim, one of my tribe on the IPMG (Int’l Paleo Movement Group) on Facebook just posted a very nice, clearly written summary of the Paleo/Primal lifestyle template. For those of you interested, wondering or questioning, check it out.

 

http://bigtimsprimaljourney.com/2011/11/02/the-primalpaleo-template/

 

Monday, October 24, 2011

RunBarefootGirl Interview

Caity McCardell of RunBarefootGirl.com interviewed me and the podcast is now up! Check it out:

 

http://runbarefootgirl.com/2011/10/rbg-21-tracy-longacre-barefoot-runner-in-namibia-africa/

 

A good running week!

Last week was a good running week, which felt pretty sweet because the Friday before my lower back spasmed and I hadn’t run in a week. Also, I ran my World Wide Festival of Races half-marathon on the 9th and it wasn’t great. Well, it was okay, but. . . What happened was I knew I wasn’t prepared to run that far in bare feet. So I chose to wear my Luna Catamount sandals. I also chose a route that was 50% tar road (the first ¼ and the last ¼) and 50% “dirt” road (which here means sand and gravel covered rock). Though I’d run 2 hours many times before—that’s my usual Sunday run—my feet hurt at the end of this run much more than they have before. It was also hot and very windy. The temperature wasn’t too bad when I started out, but it got hotter as I went along and when I turned around at the halfway point, I was heading directly into a strong headwind.

 

My experience of the race itself was that I didn’t really like it. I have been running very slowly recently, trying to build up my aerobic base and teach myself to run easy. And I have gotten used to that. I have gotten used to running and finishing with plenty of energy, feeling like I could go again. So to do a run where I felt depleted even halfway in was not much fun. When I turned at the halfway point, I realized that I didn’t actually have any motivation to run fast and my splits reflect that. (This is also a big disadvantage to running a race on your own—you don’t have the motivation or competition coming from others).

 

In the end, my time was 2:06:40, nearly 15 minutes slower than my last half-marathon, but actually not really a bad time. In my mind, I was disappointed, but when I think of all the factors—first time not wearing “real” shoes, the heat, the wind, the terrain—it was pretty reasonable. Yet, somehow I’m left feeling that it didn’t go very well.

 

This past week, I was back to running slow, by feel (well, heartrate), and I was able to do all but my long run totally barefoot. So my weekly barefoot mileage was 20mi (!), which is not only double what I’ve done before, but feels like a breakthrough. I ran Friday, Saturday and Sunday in a row and by Sunday, my feet were feeling tender, so I only ran the first 3 miles bare (though this may have been exacerbated by the heat of the tar road), but Saturday felt like a perfect run.

 

I went out at 8am and there was a nice breeze coming off the river. The day before, I had read something on Ken Bob Saxton’s (the grandfather of barefoot running) Yahoo group about running form. He’s always talked about “leading with the hips” which is an instructions I’ve sort of ignored because years of poor posture mean that my hips are thrust too forward anyway. This has caused all sorts of problems and I am currently trying to learn to not thrust my pelvis forward. But in this message, Ken Bob also said something about having your feet “go out the back” (or that is how it stuck in my mind). Somewhere early on this run on Saturday, I had a powerful body insight that seems to have greatly improved several small issues that I knew were form-related. For weeks, I’ve been concentrating on my feet which hasn’t been terribly successful. A couple of weeks ago, I started to think more about lifting my torso—standing up straight—and this did help and I had a sense that the key for me was in my hips, but it seemed my feet were still scraping the ground.

 

The insight I had on Saturday was so subtle, yet so powerful. I first realized that, for me, I need to tip the TOP of my pelvis forward (this is how I think of it). And then there is a slight adjustment of tipping the top just little further which has my foot land about an inch further back—when I think of it going out the back, behind me—and then it is not landing in front of me. I could almost feel less of a stretch on my hamstring. And I could definitely feel, over the course of the run, that I was not having problems with the tip of my 3rd toe scraping or the outsides of the balls of my feet getting sore or my big toes blistering. Yeah!

 

This was such a subtle adjustment, and yet I could feel it so clearly. The run felt so effortless—I stayed perfectly within my heartrate goal and just zoomed along. Then I would start to feel some soreness or scraping, I would focus on my pelvis and when my foot went out the back, I realized it had been reaching ever so slightly in front of me.

 

The other great experience on Saturday was running with some local boys. About a mile into my run, there were 3 boys on the road and the tallest/oldest one started to run with me. Oftentimes, if I run by a group, even of grown men, there’s some guy who has to goof around and pretend like he’s running or something stupid. But this boy wasn’t doing that, he actually came up alongside me and was running with me. His friends tucked in behind us. I didn’t have any idea how far they were planning to come, but it was nice to run along with them at my nice easy pace and they seemed happy to be trotting along. I would guess they were 10-12 years old and they, like me, were barefoot. One was Simaata and another Prince (“Prince! Does that mean you are going to be a King someday?,” I asked him. He smiled a bit bashfully, “Yes!”). Unfortunately, I didn’t get to ask the third boy his name. I wish I could have filmed this part because their form was, naturally, flawless. (They reminded me of the two boys who ran with me in Kindu, DRC with total ease and perfect form.) After about a mile, we came to another set of houses and a group of kids, so the boys left me to go off and play with them. Thanks guys, that was really nice.

 

Another Smiley Run!

 

The one thing I want to share about Sunday’s run is that I ran in my new Bedrock sandals. These huarache-type sandals are like my original Luna’s except that the straps they use are nylon webbing (like the straps on Chacos, for example). This is wonderful and solved all the issues I’ve had with rubbing and blisters caused by the sandals. There’s no bump under the toes. It did take me walking around in them all week to realize how tight I needed to tie them so the heel didn’t fall off. When I first slipped them on 3 miles into my run, they seemed very tight, but after 5 miles, they had actually loosened up, so starting out tight was the right way to go. They performed beautifully. The only issue I had was that my feet got sore by about 9 or 10 miles. I realized that I’ve only run this long in the Luna Catamounts which provide more protection (the sole is thicker and a bit more rugged—made for trails—and has a leather top). The Bedrock sole is quite thin and didn’t provide much extra protection or cushioning. It is very interesting to me to see how sensitive my feet are—how much of a difference I can feel between millimeters of rubber. The Bedrock’s, along with my SoftStar Moc3 shoes, provide the closest thing to bare foot, when I need a little protection or warmth (but as I learned Sunday, not a LOT of protection). The Catamounts provide considerably more protection (though my feet got sore after two fast and rocky hours in those during the WWFoR half-marathon, having been fine previously for 2 slow hours on the road). And something like my VFF Bikila LS now feel like a cushioned shoe to me. When the rains really come (soon, I think), I’ll have to take my Merrell Lithe Gloves out for a spin and see what I think. I haven’t worn anything even remotely like a “real shoe” for a long time—not for running or walking or cycling or anything. I’m afraid I’ll hate it. . .

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Why barefoot running? Part III: Spiritual aspects

Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”  (Exodus 3:5)

We will recover our sense of the sacred only if we appreciate the universe beyond ourselves and our role in the universe.  (Thomas Berry)

We have the most fun when we are the most dirty.  (Caity McCardell, www.RunBarefootGirl.com)

For me, engaging with these outward manifestations of barefooting was the first step. One of the primary aspects of walking and running barefoot are the sensations. We have millions of nerve endings on the bottoms of our feet and part of the benefit of barefooting is that we become aware of all these sensations. At the beginning, it can be quite mind-blowing. Later on, it can be somewhat annoying (like when I am feeling impatient and want to run faster but my feet are loudly telling me that no, they cannot do that!) As I glance at the pile of shoes I know I will never wear again, I am led to ponder the ethical implications of this choice.

However, recently my exploration of barefooting and living a minimal life has begun to show its spiritual significance. On some level, this didn’t totally surprise me because running has always been a spiritual experience for me and, more generally, my whole life is a spiritual journey. But it has come in small experiences here and there with subtle meanings slowly unfolding. I cannot say that I am clear at the moment about the purpose of this movement towards minimalism, although it makes sense in my life for purely practical reasons. However, it is the deeper, spiritual significance that I find most compelling, though it seems that this is being revealed to me in the doing of things, not necessarily as the primary motivator.

Going barefoot started out as an idea of being more “natural” and exploring what was really “necessary”. What I am discovering is that it is teaching me what it means to be a human animal. It is showing me that all the earth is holy ground—here and here and even here. It is teaching me to be mindful of my “footprint” on the earth much more literally than is usually meant by that phrase. And from it, I am receiving nourishment and a more daily sense of my place in the universe.

I recently read an article about using walking in nature as a tool in spiritual direction. The author shared an exercise that comes from the Franciscan tradition which she found in the book Christian Meditation and Inner Healing by Dwight Judy. As I was reading, I was particularly taken by this instruction: “Consider how nature speaks to you about your spiritual journey.” Within the next few days, I was running barefoot along on one of my favorite local paths—a dirt (well, sand) road that runs by the Zambezi river. I’d reached the halfway point and had turned back toward home and was probably 2/3 of the way finished with the run when I thought, “what is this run telling me about my spiritual journey?” I realized that all my attention was on the ground in front of me—and not very far in front. In fact, I was so focused on this that I really saw nothing but the piece of ground roughly ten feet out. It took a bit of an effort to raise my head and look around but as I did that, I became aware that I do this all the time, not just while running. I look down at the ground and essentially withdraw into myself. Just picking up my head and looking around felt like sweeping the cobwebs out of my brain. I immediately became present to my surroundings and it was as if my whole universe opened up and became much bigger. I realized that this powerfully paralleled the way I have been living my life—with all my attention on what’s in front of me, what’s next, what should my next step be? And very little awareness of where I am now, what is here, what’s around me, of the universe in which I live and breathe and have my being.

I honestly don’t think I could have come to that awareness directly, that it had to come to me as an analogy while running. And because I was running barefoot and hyper-aware of my sensate feelings, it was quite a profound awareness for me, not simply to lift my head and look around, but to experience in so doing that it became easier for me to run. My feet and legs relaxed more and it became easier to feel and respond to the terrain below my feet, even without staring at the ground to be sure I didn’t step on something. Such a perfect analogy because I was staring at the ground out of fear of making a misstep just as I was constantly thinking about what’s next out of fear of making a misstep.

For me, taking off my shoes is not a response to a command that God says this is “holy ground” but rather my own statement that the place on which I am standing is holy ground—wherever I am. For I consider the whole earth holy. And it is a practice that reminds me that I am an animal, an earthly creature, part of God’s creation. As I run in my bare feet, I see a dog over there, “I am just like that dog, running along!” I see cows moseying along. “I am like those cows foraging for their food.” I see a lizard enjoying the heat of the hot asphalt, “ah yes, Mr. Lizard, I, too, am soaking up the warmth of the sun.”

Learning to run barefoot has forced me to slow down. I tried to do it without slowing down, but I kept getting devastating blisters and sore calves. Now that I have decided to focus my training on learning to run completely barefoot (that is, to be able to run barefoot all the time, on all terrain, and use shoes only when needed for protection from the elements), I am running very slowly. Based on the success of some other barefoot/minimalist running friends, I decided to start using a heartrate monitor (which I have never done before) and follow Phil Maffetone’s advice to build my aerobic base. Similar to Arthur Lydiard’s LSD method, Maffetone recommends running at a rate which is, for me (based on my age and fitness), no higher than 136 bpm. At this heartrate I can breathe through my nose or hold an entire conversation as I run along. Currently, it has me running between 10:30 and 11:45 minutes per mile. The heartrate monitor keeps me honest, which means slow, which also means that I am fully able to listen to the feedback I am receiving from my feet. And it is a very different experience to run this slowly. I think I did run like this when I was a teenager, but I certainly haven’t done so in the last six or seven years since I revived my running habit this time around. I don’t need to be so focused. I can look around. I have much more of a sense of “being here” wherever I am rather than running past the scenery.

I can get very wrapped up in my thoughts about work—am I doing what I am meant to do? Am I doing it well enough? Will we receive the funding we need? Am I meeting expectations? Am I making a difference? But then I’m running down the road, looking around, and I see a hawk just floating in the air. I doubt he (or she) is fretting over whether he is fulfilling his calling. He spots a mouse or a lizard or some other delicious morsel, swoops down to grab it and either succeeds and feels satisfied or doesn’t and moves back up to keep looking. And I am running barefoot and right now there is nothing else to be doing.

And I begin to recover my sense of the sacred.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Run Smiley Virtual Race

Lucky for me, this weekend was the Run Smiley virtual run. I don’t know if the Run Smiley Collective is at all hooked into the Running Podcasts community, which hosts the Worldwide Festival of Races (now for the 6th year I think), but the Run Smiley virtual run is the same idea—we all (hopefully all!) ran Smiley and barefoot this weekend. This was lucky for me because I had been feeling a bit under the weather this week and had not been out for a run since Tuesday. But I’d decided that I was going to get out and Run Smiley, even if I only got out to the road (about 200 meters)! But it seems that taking my Yin Chiao “at the first sign of a cold” pills all day Friday did the trick and I woke Saturday feeling just fine, though perhaps a bit lazy.

 

After listening to an episode of NPR’s “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” and “This American Life” while drinking my coffee, I finally got dressed and got out at 10am. My pace was a bit slow (in order to keep my heartrate in the right range), which makes sense since I’ve been fighting something off, but this just gave me more time to look around and say hello to people and smile. There aren’t that many people around my area (honestly, there aren’t that many people in all of Namibia), but it being a Saturday morning, and a bit later than I usually go out, there were quite a few people scattered here and there who were heading to town or to fetch water. I had one boy run with me for a few meters, but though I invited him to continue, he went back to doing his chores. By the halfway point, I was quite aware of the heat of the pavement underfoot and decided to return on the sandy path off the road. For the most part that was a bit cooler, though there were a few spots that were quite hot. So, I’m going to have to get out earlier now that we are heading into summer. Everyone tells me that October is the hottest month. Then the rains start in November. I’m not sure what to expect then, since I arrived here at the end of the rainy season and it only rained a few times, and always in the afternoon.

 

Of course, the most difficult part, as ever, is having someone take my picture. I’m usually the one behind the camera! But my friend John, who takes care of the building where I am living, gladly obliged me. So here I am – shoeless, braless, and smiley (just imagine two dots for eyes above my head – see? My arms are a smile ;-) )

 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why barefoot running? Part II: Ethical considerations, the sin of consumerism

I said that the next thing I would talk about with regard to barefoot running would be the spiritual dimension. However, as I began to write about that, I realized there was another aspect which I needed to address—the ethical.

 

When I started to move to more minimal footwear and to walk and even run barefoot, most of my focus was on the physical experience and benefits. I was (and still am) inquiring into my own felt experience—am I more or less comfortable, can I do this barefoot or that barefoot, what are the sensations on this terrain or that, what are my feet capable of? Simultaneously though, I started to confront ethical questions having to do with what I really need and the materialism and consumerism both within my own assumptions and beliefs about what is necessary and within the marketing hype in the running and fashion industries.

 

Living in Africa, one of the things I have become very present to is the constellation of beliefs about what is “necessary” to live. When I lived in the United States, I had a lot of ideas about what is “necessary”—everything from certain types of furniture to special shoes for running (and several pairs) to special clothes for everything to a certain amount of space. The list goes on and on. But then I started traveling to Africa regularly and noticing that people could live just fine without the things I thought were requirements. When I lived in Cameroon and was President of the Mezam Stars Athletic Club, my fellow runners wore whatever used running shoes they could find in the 2nd hand clothing market. They were particularly pleased if they could find a pair of shoes that were the proper size. And they ran just fine. In fact, they ran very well. And they were professionals, or at least semi-professionals. Lots of casual runners, and even contestants in the famous Mt. Cameroon Race ran in flip flops or “jellies” (plastic sandals that pre-dated Crocks).

 

This past December, I did a series of spiritual retreats during which I kept getting, in stronger and stronger terms, the message that I need to pare down my material possessions in order to be mobile. “Really? What are you saying? Everything? Down to nothing but a backpack?,” I thought. And the feeling that I had was, “yes, as far as you can go.” I’m not sure if that is just a romantic notion, but given my lifestyle (I’ve moved every 4-8 months for the last several years) it certainly made sense to let go of a lot of things. And the longer I sit with this idea, the more I am drawn to “going all the way,” as one might say. I recently read a blog by a guy who got down to having 100 things and I find that idea very intriguing. I am planning to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela after I am finished here in Namibia and I want to do that as minimally/lightly as possible. (I have never been in to “backpacking” and the idea of carrying 30 or 40 pounds on my back for a month sounds horrendous.) In my first minimal experiment, my pack was 14 pounds. Not bad, though I think I can do better.

 

We shall see how far I really do go. But I bring this up to say that there is a background context, a movement of the spirit in me, of which being barefoot is a part.

 

We humans are smart and creative. We love to make stuff. And a lot of that stuff is very useful. But not always necessary. Airplanes are very useful if you want to travel across a continent or an ocean in a short period of time. But they, of course, have their drawbacks, one of which is missing being with, learning about, knowing that continent or ocean you just crossed. Cars can get you from here to there pretty quickly. But do I need to travel in a car the 3.5mi to work? No, actually. And with a bicycle, the time it takes is the same (given that I have to wait for a taxi).

 

Further than that, however, are the things we have been convinced are “necessary” which are, in fact, harmful to us. Processed food is a good example. “I am very busy, how can I possibly find time to cook?” is the necessity argument. And yet processed food is full of sugar and artificial ingredients that are linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and all sorts of other things. “If you have low arches, you need motion control shoes” is one of the necessity arguments for running shoes. Yet, there have been studies showing that wearing a shoe “designed” for your type of foot does not prevent running-related injuries any better than wearing a general neutral shoe. (The Army did a study of 500+ soldiers, both genders, showing this.) And I think there is a growing body of evidence showing that shoes, particularly supportive or cushioned shoes, cause as many, if not more, injuries than they prevent.

 

When I was young, we only had “nice” shoes and “sneakers.”  I remember the late 1970s when there started to be distinctions among sneakers—“tennis” shoes and “basketball” shoes and “running” shoes. But then it really took off within the running shoe category. Even now, as far as I know, tennis shoes are tennis shoes and basketball shoes are basketball shoes. Within the sport-type, you would select your shoes based on comfort or fashion. But within running shoes, we have been taught to believe that we need “technology” to “keep us” from getting injured. As if injury were inevitable without the “right” shoes.

 

Not so.

 

It is a basic principle of marketing that your purpose is to convince your target audience that they need your product. Simply wanting the product is not enough. In the “developed” world, most people live far beyond the real necessities of life. However, if your society is built upon consuming, you need to convince the population that their job is to consume. If times are good and people are feeling flush, then you can get them to consume things because they “want” them. But when times get tougher and people are feeling pinched, they will pare down to consuming what they believe they “need.” Hence, if your product is a “need” you are going to make more money. This has been going on for long enough now (50 or so years), that it is pretty automatic for marketers to be able to come up with a “need” that their produce fulfills and it is pretty automatic for consumers to believe that they have this “need.”

 

For me, there are two basic issues with all of this. The first is that I am not a “consumer.” I am a human being, I am a woman, I am a runner, I am a Deacon, I am a citizen. I gladly take on a variety of roles and identify myself as such. But I do not choose to be identified as a consumer. I think one of the fundamental problems with the Western world, particularly the United States, is that the population has been defined as, and have now taken on the identity of, consumers rather than citizens. (Takers rather than givers, relatively passive rather than active.) Notice the difference in the response to 9/11 vs. Pearl Harbor. In response to 9/11, our President told us to go out and shop. In response to Pearl Harbor, the President told people to pull together and sacrifice for the war effort.

 

The second major issue is that the consumption of the “developed” world, and again, particularly the United States, is unsustainable and is ruining the planet.  I am shocked when I see people say that population growth is the problem (so easy to say when you are already born and living!). It is not population growth that is the problem, it is consumption.

 

So, for me, pulling back from that marketing hype, running in minimal shoes (which don’t have to be replaced every 500 miles) or barefoot (no shoes at all), helps me to regain my identity as a RUNNER rather than as a CONSUMER of running-related paraphernalia.

 

By Western standards, I probably live a very minimal lifestyle. I can definitely say that living in Africa will likely reduce your carbon footprint more than most measures you can take while still living in the US (though I realize this is not for everyone). Yet, by African standards, I still have an astounding amount of stuff. Not just “nice” shoes and “sneakers”, but several pairs of each! When teenagers here go off to boarding school (very common since secondary schools are only in towns), they go with a suitcase the size of a carry-on plus a blanket. All their worldly possessions. I am definitely not there yet.

 

For years now, I have been a “shoe hound.” There was a time in my younger, poorer days when I had one pair of “work” shoes, one pair of running shoes and maybe one pair of casual shoes. Then I needed two pairs of running shoes, because it is better to switch them. Then there were winter shoes and summer shoes. Then there were shoes to wear with a suit and more casual everyday work shoes. And there started to be shoes on the market that I loved. Somewhere along the line, I totally gave up the idea that a pair of shoes should “wear out” before they are “replaced.”

 

So for me, a big part of barefooting is being confronted by my consumerism. I do also have some attachment to material things, but not that much. I do like and appreciate many of the things I own and there are a few things which I would feel quite devastated about the loss of. However, that is not my primary sin. I am much more guilty of the sin of consumerism—of wanting to have/buy/try this or that because I think it will fulfill/satisfy/solve some “need.”

 

But if I don’t need shoes to run, or a running bra, or special  shorts or shirts (I am reminded of the guy who showed up at the recent 12K I ran here in Katima, signed up, took off his shoes and socks, and ran in his regular pants and shirt) or any of the other paraphernalia that I have thought that I need, then the only reason I buy or have those things is because I want them. Okay, that’s not necessarily bad. But it puts them on a different level. Then, when I am looking at paring down my life so that I can move anywhere, anytime I want to, it leads me to ask, “do I want that enough to carry it around? Or pay to put it in storage somewhere?” How much of my life—my time, my energy, my money, my thought-processes—do I want to spend on these wants? And what is the impact of my indulging my consumerism in this way—what is the cost to the planet, to other human beings, to the soul of the planet, to my soul?

 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Frank Forencich: Don’t we want more from the Paleo than diet?

This is the from the MovNat website. I wanted to share it with you because I am totally with Frank here. I came to the Paleo way of eating FROM barefooting and MovNat--from wanting to find more natural ways of movement. That led me to exploring more natural ways of eating (and subsequently of sleeping, washing, traveling. . .) For me, this was never about a diet. Oh sure, I had those persistent 10lbs that I could never lose, which did come off right away when I improved my eating, but I'm not going back to the way I ate before because I lost that weight. It was never the point.

Guest Blog Entry by Frank Forencich: Don’t we want more from the Paleo than diet?

For me "Paleo" or "Primal" or "ancestral" or whatever you want to call it, is about learning what it means to be a human animal and how to live naturally in the world, on this planet. Yes, I find it a bit sad that I have to learn this, but such is our predicament as modern-day human beings.

The earth is a wonderful place, full of beauty and places to explore and I want to feel it, touch it, sense it as deeply and closely as I can. Won't you join me?

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy: Soft Star Moc3 Review

I wanted to share this review of the SoftStar Moc3 minimal shoes because I, too, love these shoes. I think he does a good job of reviewing them.

The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy: Soft Star Moc3 Review: I rarely use overly strong language when I do shoe reviews. I don't want to use words like "ultimate", and "best" because I'm worried tha...

Why barefoot running? Part I: Physical evolution & benefits

I have been running in more and more minimal shoes for the past couple of years and experimenting with running completely barefoot. This started when I had a video analysis of my running gait at the Running Revolution in Santa Cruz, California back in 2009. Although I have had folks in running shoe stores tell me previously that I had a neutral gait, I always ran in stability shoes and found that I got injured if I tried to run in neutral cushioned shoes. However, the video analysis made it very obvious that I do not overpronate.

 

The primary reason I ran in stability shoes (my favorites were Brooks Adrenaline) was because they were “harder.” That is, not so cushioned. And it was, in fact, the cushioning that caused me trouble. I didn’t need the cushioning and it made my footfall so unstable that my IT band and hamstrings would have to compensate and that’s when I would get injured. However, now armed with this new information, I began to experiment with new shoe models. I tried Brooks Trance which were pretty good (a new category for Brooks, called “guidance” which was between stability and neutral). I tried Nike Lunars whose neutrality was great, but whose cushioning (way too much) was horrible. I didn’t even put 200 miles on them. Then I tried a pair of Newton Gravity’s which I quite liked as shoes and definitely increased my pace with no extra effort on my part. Unfortunately, the underforefoot piece that stuck out caused some serious falls (see May 2010 when I was living in Lubumbashi) on the uneven terrain I had to navigate. Then I tried Brooks Green Silence which are both neutral and “hard”—they are marketed as a “performance training” shoe and have little cushion and little extra support. Those were quite good and eventually became my main shoes. Throughout this experimentation period, I also bought Vibram FiveFingers and later a pair of VivoBarefoot Evos (both very minimal shoes-little or no padding, no support). Actually my first pair of Vibrams were bought when I was in the Solomon Islands in 2008 and I have run in them off and on since that time, but always thought that I needed “real shoes” for long runs. Simultaneous to my own experimentation, the running shoe industry has been changing and this past winter/spring several companies came out with minimal shoes. Before leaving the US for Namibia, I got a pair of New Balance Minimus Road shoes (those did not work for me) and a pair of Merrell Trail shoes (first the Pure Gloves which injured my Achilles tendon and then the Lithe Gloves which I haven’t run in much yet, but I think may work out).

 

I started to notice something during this period of experimentation. When I ran in the Vibrams or Evos, my back didn’t hurt. I have had an off and on chronic lower back issue—the flaring up of an old injury. It is often resolved by getting some deep tissue massage or physiotherapy, but it will come back when I increase mileage or overdo it. But even when it was flared up, if I ran in the Vibrams, I had no pain during or after the run.

 

Last year, when I was living in Lubumbashi, I would try to run all my shorter runs in the VFFs. The roads were horrible—rocky, full of holes, etc.—so I thought I couldn’t run barefoot. I ran barefoot on the beach when I was on vacation in Zanzibar and again in Diani Beach, Kenya. I really liked it but felt my feet were so tender! When I was back in the US last winter, it was very cold for my feet, but as Spring started to peek out from under the cold, I again was using VFFs for shorter runs. By the time I was getting ready to come to Namibia last March, the Brooks Green Silence had become my “long run” shoes—a far cry from the Adrenalines!

 

The big advantage of these more minimal shoes for me is that they give me the firm feel I have always been wanting without the unnecessary support. So I am able to get back to my natural gait and, it seems, this is resolving the issue with my lower back. As I’ve mentioned on this blog, I’ve been wanting to go completely barefoot, but was training for a marathon and dealing with winter here in Katima, which was cold enough in the early mornings to make running barefoot very uncomfortable. Why bare feet? In part, because all of the advice I have read says that the best way to perfect your form is to go completely barefoot. I know that now I can really feel how much padding the VFF Bikilas have compared to some other more minimal shoes I have (Luna sandals and now my new SoftStar Moc3s). When I have experimented with running barefoot, I have to run more slowly and mindfully than when I wear the VFFs. This means that the VFFs are not only protecting my feet, but they are allowing me to run less attentively, less naturally. Now that the marathon is behind me, I’m committed to running as often as possible completely bare. This past week, this meant on the weekends, when I can run later in the morning when it is warmer. If the temperature is in the 50s F in the early mornings, my feet go numb and this is not good. When it is too cold to go completely bare, I use either my Luna sandals or my Moc3s, which are the most minimal shoes I have and seem to change my form the least.

 

I also now walk barefoot or in minimal sandals as much as possible. This helps condition my feet and muscles. I no longer have any calf pain and my feet, ankles and legs are quite well conditioned. Also, the bottoms of my feet are getting less callused and more leathery and padded/fatter. My proprioception is very good just from living and running on trails and in Africa where the road is not smooth and predictable, but it has definitely gotten better through barefoot running. I don’t always know how to change my gait, but I am keenly aware of exactly what my feet, ankles and calves are doing. These are very good developments.

 

So that has been my physical evolution—from stability shoes to very minimal shoes and soon bare feet. My current goal is to build up to be able to run a half-marathon in bare feet. Perhaps after that, I will shoot for a marathon, but we shall see. On a related note, I am also using Phil Maffetone’s MAF method (maximum aerobic function) and running with a heart rate monitor for the first time in my life—to run much slower than usual. My range should be 126-136 bpm which looks like it will be between 10:30 and 11:30 min/mi pace at the moment. Maffetone’s idea is that you will start out quite slow, but as you increase your aerobic conditioning, your pace at the same heart rate will increase. This will make me more aerobically efficient and, hopefully, faster. The added benefit is that slowing down helps me stay more mindful as I run barefoot.

 

In the next post, I will write about the spiritual aspects of barefooting.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

I contributed to a Podcast!

Hey folks. My friend, Steve Runner, produces a podcast called Phedippidations. It is a podcast for runners and quite popular, though of late he is following a more philosophical path (so it’s not about how to run better or how to fuel for marathons or stuff like that). His most recent episode “In Vino Veritas” is about truth and I, along with two others, contributed some thoughts on the subject. I encourage you to take a listen.

 

http://steverunner.blogspot.com/2011/08/fdip275-in-vino-veritas.html

 

Monday, September 05, 2011

Shoeless, braless, SMILEY!

After my marathon, I decided I would start running again when I felt like it. And I want the focus now to be on running barefoot and building up my barefoot mileage. The key to this is, I believe, going by feel—running when I feel like it, going how long or far I feel like going, and having fun! In other words, running smiley. I must admit however, that this is quite a challenge for me. I almost always have a plan that I am running to. “Do I run today or not? Let’s see what my plan says.” Now, I keep thinking, “oh I need to create a plan for transitioning to total barefoot running.” Even though all the advice I’ve read and received from those who are successfully running barefoot much longer distances than me is that I need to play, feel it out, follow my body, NOT have a plan. Oy! It’s insidious. Wish me luck.

 

By Saturday morning, I really had no more residual aches or pains from the marathon. Also, the heat has returned to Katima rather suddenly and I was looking forward to getting out in the heat. I really do not like running when my feet are numb. No, not at all. So, after enjoying a tall cup of coffee, while getting dressed, I recalled a conversation I had with Caity McCardell of Run Barefoot Girl (www.RunBarefootGirl.com) about wearing bras. Do we need sports bras?

 

Well, when I was on the cross-country team in high school, there were no such things as sports bras. We wore our regular bras – nasty things for running with metal hooks and things that caused bad chafing. And there was no Body Glide back then either. Several of my friends and I stopped wearing bras while running. And it worked fine. And our boobs did not fall down (neither then, when they were young and perky, nor as we grew older—at least mine did not). I went back to wearing a bra shortly after that when a) sports bras were created and b) I was living in cities where men were obnoxious jerks. Most of my 20s were a time of buying into, or at least conforming (as best as I was able) to, societal expectations. Then I went to Africa where a lot of women, probably the majority (all those in rural areas and some in urban areas), do not wear bras. And because breasts are viewed as baby feeding mechanisms rather than sexual objects (and I’m significantly less well-endowed than many of my African sisters) my going braless drew no attention. So I stopped wearing a bra. I never found them comfortable and the less I wore them, the less comfortable I was whenever I tried to wear one. But I continue to wear sports bras and am always on the hunt for one that is comfortable and does not chafe—a seemingly endless chase.

 

So there I am about to go out and run barefoot, remembering this whole conversation about bras. Could I run without a bra? Wouldn’t I bounce? Would it hurt? Would I feel self-conscious? This would be a good day to try. I had no agenda. It would be fine if I just ran a couple of miles. I ran in place a bit in my room and it didn’t hurt. I ran in front of a mirror and it didn’t look too bad (Lord knows I did NOT want to look ridiculous!). Okay, let’s try this. I set out in nothing but shorts and a tank top (with my watch, sunglasses and iPod—I do still have my attachments).

 

It felt great to run barefoot. The ground felt neither cold nor warm and I felt my posture & form were good. (I used the Shelly Robillard test—my necklace wasn’t bouncing around. Another benefit—neither were my breasts!) I had decided that I was going to run totally on the road, on the asphalt, which is new for me. I’ve run as much as 6 miles barefoot, but 5.5 of those miles were on the sandy trail. I had some fear of the road—that it would be too hard, there would be too much impact, but all the barefoot experts said the best way to learn good form and the right way to run was to run on the road. After half a mile or so I noticed how light I was running, how I felt no impact. I was just rolling along. And I felt so free, so relaxed. I was just there, everything was as it should be, I didn’t need this or that to be able to run. There was something about running without a bra that felt so liberating. I was not expecting that. I felt more present, more confident, more open (and less anxious, cautious, guarded). And my feet felt totally fine.

 

I decided to run 4 miles, though part of me thought, “oh, or maybe 5.” But I turned around at 2 miles and changed to the other side of the road which is rougher. I started to feel a sort of pain on the outside of the ball of my right foot. I knew that this was a contact spot when I walked as well because it was one of the places on my feet that gets dirty. I tried to change the way my foot was landing and think more consciously about lifting my feet (rather than pushing off). I was doing okay until about 3.5 miles when clearly I was starting to get a blister on that spot (and on the top of the 4th toe on my left foot). All the advice says I should have stopped right then and walked home. I did in fact stop once or twice and feel around (to make sure it was a pebble or something) and I walked a few paces which didn’t really hurt at all, but then I ran because, well, I was out for a run. Besides it was only a half mile more to go.

 

In the end, my feet were a bit sore for the rest of the day and I was thinking I was stupid. (I don’t think of myself as particularly stubborn by nature, but I certainly can be about running.) The spot didn’t turn into a big blister I could pop, but the skin is tender. The general rule of thumb is to run barefoot every other day if everything is working well, so I resisted the urge to run today, even though I think I could have. I’ll see how the feet are tomorrow, but I think I dodged a bullet. Lucky me.

 

The World Wide Festival of Races is in 5 weeks and I would LOVE to run a half-marathon that weekend totally barefoot. That could be way too ambitious and it could be possible. We shall see. Stay tuned. . .

Victoria Falls Marathon Race Report

The 26th of August was Heroes’ Day in Namibia, so my friend Janice and I headed down to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe to run in the Vic Falls Marathon (I ran the marathon, she ran the half-marathon) which was being held Sunday the 28th.

 

After a lovely Saturday being tourists and an early evening, we woke before dawn to prep and walk down to the start of the race. I thought (hoped?) it would be cooler and I would need to bring my jacket, but I felt fine in just a shirt and my MoeBen sleeves. It was dark at 6:00am when we left our hostel, but it gets light pretty quickly this close to the equator, so the 6:30am start time was well-timed. There were a few hundred people milling around—for the marathon, the half-marathon, a 5k fun run, and about 6 or 8 guys in wheelchairs for the half-marathon. We found the starting banner and I tried to breathe and not be too nervous. The marathoners would start first, 30 minutes ahead of the half-marathon, so Janice wished me luck and I looked around at my “competition”. Soon enough, they announced “5 minutes to go” over the loudspeaker and then, we were off.

 

For the marathon, we would run two loops – with slight variations. The race began by going down and over the bridge over the Zambezi River, with Victoria Falls on the north side and the gorge to the south. We climbed a hill after the bridge, ran all the way to the Zambian border and turned around, crossing the bridge again, passing through the Zimbabwean border control and providing much entertainment for the border agents who were just arriving for their workday.

 

Around 5K, the course followed a road/path around the Vic Falls Park and I started to see regular km-marker signs. They seemed very frequent, but that was because there were signs for the first loop and the second. This part of the course was very nice—pretty flat, scenic, bushy and mostly vehicle-free. We passed “The Big Tree” (see my Flickr page for more photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tlongacre) and soon after turned onto a major road headed north towards Zambezi National Park. By this point, we were all spread out and settling into our “spots”. There were two guys ahead of me who were walking and I passed them, thinking perhaps they would pass me back when they began running again, but that never happened. We climbed a hill, at the top of which an enormous valley opened up before us and I had a tremendous feeling of spaciousness. As I started to descend, I could see the frontrunners coming back towards me after having turned around inside the Park. Other than those at the water stops, there were not many spectators, particularly those cheering, but at the bottom of the hill, before entering the Park, there was a guy standing by his pickup truck who cheered everyone on. That was great! I thanked him. Also on this stretch, I saw the first three women, who were young Africans. The first was a Zimbabwean who had shared our dorm with us last night. Then I saw the first white women. There were not many ahead of me at this point, three for sure, maybe 4 or 5 (there was a portion inside the park where the return is split and so we do not see each other). I was pretty sure the first three were veterans (over-40) though, and they were all within 10 or so minutes of each other and easily 10 minutes ahead of me.

 

Inside the park we got to run on a trail for maybe a kilometer, which was really nice. And there was a water station sponsored by FedEx in there which was great. (There were the official water stations and then at least an extra 4 or 5 sponsored by specific groups which seemed to set up wherever they wanted. This made the distribution not very even. However, the last, unexpected one, sponsored by Botswana Tourism, 2K from the end after a long drought was very, very welcome!)

 

Coming out of the park, I was smacked by the headwind and had to fight that for a couple of kilometers. By this time, I could see half-marathoners on the other side of the road and as I reached the bottom of the hill, the lead pack of the half-marathon swooped past me. Boy, that was a bit disconcerting! As I climbed the hill out of the valley, I heard my name and looked up to see Janice happily running along taking pictures. (Her goal for the race was to take it easy and take photos, not run for time, and she seemed to be doing well.) After cresting the hill, the course turned right into a very hilly, barren section called Elephant Hills. At this point there were two other guys in my vincinity—1 passed me, I passed 1, then on the hills the other passed me and I passed the first. Suddenly we could hear drums in the distance. We turned a corner and climbed the last steep hill to the entrance of the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge whose security guards directed us, drummers entertained us and staff plied us with water and energy drinks. Good advertising!

 

It seemed this might be the end of the hills, but it was not so. They were more gradual now, but they persisted as we made our way through what they call the “low density area” and you or I might call the “high rent district.” As we reached the main road back into town, we had to go out a bit further to a turn-around. Just when I wanted to grumble, “why can’t we just turn towards town?” I was met by a family of spectators cheering and assuring us that this was the end of the hills. How nice of them! And right before the turnaround there was a little shop, in fact, “Little Harrod’s” as it proudly announced in letters perfectly painted in the Harrod’s font! (In many ways, Zimbabwe is very British colonial.)

 

The route to town was a wonderfully slow-sloping downhill and fortunately I knew the way because as I ran through town I found myself totally alone without another runner in sight and no police or water stations to provide direction. Finally, as I passed the Kingdom Hotel and climbed the hill to the start of the second loop, another running caught up with me and we navigated the last bit together.

 

At the turn on the road by Vic Falls Park there was a water station and I decided that, even though I wasn’t the least bit hungry, this would be a good time to take a gel. So I started walking, grabbed some water and tore open one of the Honey Stinger gels I brought. I sucked down the whole thing (mostly so I wouldn’t have to carry an open one) and tried to drink enough water so my mouth didn’t feel sticky. About a kilometer later, I was already dreaming of the next water stop, however, because I hadn’t taken quite enough water.

 

So the first half went very well for me, actually. I came through 13 miles at 1hr 52min, which is darn close to my half-marathon PR and I was still feeling strong. I decided that for the second half I needed to take more water and walk through those water stations. A couple of miles later, as I came out to the major road towards Zambezi Park, they were offering a blue drink. I asked what it was, and they named a local Gatorade-type of drink, so I took that hoping for a sugar boost. The taste wasn’t too bad, but it was really sweet. I was starting to slow somewhat and my spirits were beginning to lag a bit because the section from here to the park was rather desolate, but I didn’t feel at all like walking, so that was good. Somehow in my head I decided that if I made it to the 30K mark in good time, it would all be great.

 

Once I hit the park, however, I was feeling very tight. I walked some and then stopped and stretched. My thighs were already shouting pretty loudly and my lower back and hamstrings were predictably tight. I looked up and someone was coming, so I got back underway. Up a hill, then down a hill, turn right onto the trail and then downhill to the FedEx water stop. I didn’t need water, but I thanked the guys ‘cause they’d been out there for hours and they were still cheering us and directing us and lying that we looked good ;-)

 

One guy passed me and then I passed him back and as we came out of the park we both passed two other guys and the four of us sort of jockeyed back and forth all the way up the hill out of the valley and through Elephant Hills and past the VF Safari Lodge. By now, though, the hills were really, really killing me. There were still some half-marathoners on the course, but they were the only ones I passed. After the Safari Lodge, I had one of my worst miles as I realized that my quadriceps were in a lot of pain. I hadn’t seen another woman since the first 10K or so, but as I passed the turnaround by Little Harrod’s, first one, then a second, young woman passed me (both Americans, I think, as they both had extremely short shorts and red, white and blue ribbons in their ponytails). I kept trying to run, but stopped at one point again to stretch (squatting down was simultaneously very effective and intensely painful). A couple of guys caught and passed me right as we were back out on the road to town, before turning onto the last leg which was unknown territory through the “high density area”. We had about 6K to go.

 

It was in the high density area that I started to walk more and more. It was a bit of a strange experience. Up until now, the course had been pretty empty of people, but those we saw were there to cheer us or support us with water, drinks, etc. Now we were running through the residential part of town filled with people walking to church or from church and going about their business who mostly looked at us wondering what on earth these weird white people were doing. Luckily, I kept those two guys in my sights and after a few turns, I noticed strategically placed arrows showing us where to go. I ran up a hill and at the top was the last water stop and a film crew who stuck a microphone in my face (I shudder to think what I looked like), but I ran on. Running up hill didn’t seem to bother me much, but I could get no relief running downhill because that was when my thighs really hurt. This section of the course didn’t look very hilly because I could never really see very far ahead (there were many turns), but I think it was just as hilly as Elephant Hills.

 

Then we were out of the high density area and on the highway, then back in to run by a school. As I came to the corner by the school, I was walking, but a marching group of some sort (it didn’t look particularly military, though they were in uniforms) was coming up the road behind me, so I tried to run a bit. The thing I hated about these final two miles or so was that my energy was fine. It was just my legs that were totally shot. It was 10:30am or so by now and getting hotter, particularly since we were away from the river and couldn’t really feel the wind anymore. After this school we were headed back out on the highway again. Just before turning onto the highway, there was another cameraman asking me, “how is the final leg of your marathon going?” “Not very well, as you can see,” I replied, thinking that was obvious since I was walking, “but I’m going to finish, so that’s great.” Then I looked forward and there was the 40K sign and the Botswana Tourism water station—hallelujah! (Later, I talked to the woman at the Botswana Tourism tent, got some information about Chobe park, which is quite close to me and the best park in Botswana, and scored a really nice Botswana tourism polo shirt!)

 

Walk, walk, walk, run a little bit, ouch. Then there was the entrance to a private school and people were pointing me in. A few more yards? I could run that! There was a sort of chute which made it clear where to go, but then it became unclear – I was on the outside of this tape and on the inside were all these tents/booths and people. Not knowing where I was supposed to go, I asked a guy at one of the booths who directed me to follow the tape all the way around. Aargh! But I was running and my feet kept moving, so okay. I got to the end, crossed the line and they tore off my tag. Walking a bit further, I was greeted by woman handing out our t-shirts, water bottles and water. I made it!

 

I wandered around looking for Janice but didn’t find her. I sat and took my shoes off which felt good, but was difficult—it was very painful to get down to the ground to sit and very painful to get up from sitting. I wandered around looking at all the sponsored tents (by hotels for their guests, by some companies). ShopRite was there and tons of people had ShopRite bags. That would have been very handy, but I got there too late for that. The Kingdom Hotel had a tent that was serving food. At first I thought it was only for guests, but then I saw some people who clearly were not guests going there, so I followed them. The food serving guy asked us for our tickets, so I wandered around to see how to get a ticket. I asked another food serving guy who directed me to a drink serving guy who pulled a book of tickets out of his pocket and just gave me one. Score! So I got a few meatballs and a couple of little drumsticks and a bottle of cold water. I found a chair and sat and ate. It was a little heavy on my stomach, but I knew I needed real food—protein & fat. After eating, I succumbed to my tanking blood sugar and drank my annual Coke which definitely hyped up me up. Then I wandered over to see if they had announced the winners. When I saw the list of women’s veterans, they all came in between 3:24 and 3:45 or so. Way before me. There was no visible clock, so I wasn’t totally sure of my time—I forgot to stop my Garmin until several minutes later, but I knew I was just under 4:30. Later when I saw one woman with the prizes (all the veteran winners were given walking sticks, so they were easy to spot), it was the woman I had last seen as the 3rd white woman, so I wondered if I had been right all along and those three had stayed pretty close throughout the race.

 

Shortly after this, I was thrilled to find out there was a shuttle bus back to town because the only route I knew was at least 6K back to my hostel and I really could barely walk. The shuttle driver asked for vouchers, but didn’t even notice if you didn’t give him one (thank God). There was a nice Italian guy who was also staying at our hostel and when the shuttle dropped us off, there was Janice sitting in the Reception lounge chair in the shade!

 

Final result (according to my Garmin Foreunner 410): 4:24:36 for 26.22 miles, a PR!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Lookin' extra fly

I gotta testify, come up in the spot lookin’ extra fly

For the day I die, I’m gonna touch the sky

 

This weekend’s runs brought to me by Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco and MoeBen sleeves. I finally received a package sent from the US in early July which contained all sorts of awesome stuff, including my new Merrell Trail Lithe shoes (ran 6 miles in them today, Sunday, which went well), StarSoft Roo moccasins (so far only worn inside which gave me this odd, rare experience—warm feet!), StarSoft Moc3 running mocs (ran my 7 mile Tempo run on Saturday—beautiful—just like barefeet, but warmer!), and my MoeBen sleeves which look so totally, completely cool I can’t wait to wear them in the marathon next week. Almost like Christmas!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Scenes from a long run

I needed to do a 18-20 miles -- the last long run before the marathon on the 28th -- enough so that I would be able to gauge whether I could actually run the whole 26.2 miles (42.2 km). Happily, I actually felt up to it (which has been a bit of a problem over the last month or so). I was up at 5:30am as usual, but knew I wanted to wait for it to warm up, so I made a cup of coffee, got my Kindle to do some reading and listened to one of my favorite podcasts (RunRunLive: www.runrunlive.com) of which I had two episodes I had not yet heard.

 

I had thought I should get out at 8am, but it takes me awhile to drink coffee and then I had to prep -- get dressed, grease up bra straps and feet with BodyGlide, fill my Camelback, grab a banana & a Honey Stinger gel, etc. So it was a bit after 9am when I got out the door. I had a moment of concern about how hot it might be at noon or 1pm when I would still be out there, but I told myself it was just about time on the road and if I had to walk, that would be fine.

 

I tried to start out slowly -- focusing on relaxing my shoulders, my calves, going easy -- but the first 3 miles were quite fast (about 9:10/mi). I decided to go over to Zambia and wondered what the route would be like after 7 miles, which is as far as I’d gone on that side previously. Around 3 miles, looking ahead, there was another woman runner coming toward me. Was that Janice? She had a hat on so I couldn't see clearly what color her hair was. It could be a tourist, I suppose. Or maybe another white resident whom I'd yet to meet, though that seemed unlikely. As we got closer, yes, it was Janice! What a perfect coincidence as I had been thinking of texting her all week so we could plan the trip to Victoria Falls! Janice is a Peace Corps volunteer -- a physiotherapist and a triathlete from Hawaii -- working at the Mainstream Foundation, the other organization in Katima (besides Cheshire Home) working with people with disabilities. She's the person who told me about the Victoria Falls Marathon. We stopped and caught up -- she'd been down in Windhoek for meetings for nearly a month -- and discussed our plans. And I told her I was on a 20-miler, which really committed me (someone else now knew!). When I started up again, my pace was easier, which was good.

 

After leaving Janice, I passed the long empty space between the Vocational School and the border -- nearly two miles along a large corporate farm. Reaching the border was a quarter of the way and I was feeling good. The terrain changes as well, with a bit of elevation change (barely recognizable as hills, but at least not pancake flat). Going over the river, it was very remarkable how much rougher it was now than it had been a month or so ago, the last time I crossed. When I arrived in Katima, the water level was so high that you really had to look hard at the river to even see the flow. Now, so many rocks were visible and creating rapids.

 

The road dipped down after the bridge and then rose up and leveled off and somewhere on the level part I surpassed my prior routes. There seemed to be a lot more people around. Perhaps it was because it was a bit later—after 10am by now—or perhaps just a function of the greater population in Zambia vs. Namibia. I passed the Sesheke Secondary School up on a hill and the road curved and I could see ahead that traffic, buildings,  and people were getting much more dense. On the edge of town was Sesheke Basic School and then rows of shops on either side of the road and, amazing to my eyes, at least two large shops selling used clothes. Wow! I am now in “normal” Africa. Sesheke is the closest town in Zambia to Katima in Namibia (it is, actually, directly across the river from Cheshire Home, where I live), but it felt so different. It reminded me of every place else I’ve lived or visited in Africa. Two long rows of cinderblock shops selling everything a person needs. Shops, from what I could see as I ran by, that were owned and operated by Zambians (rather than, as in Katima, Chinese or Egyptians or Indians or large South African corporations). Used clothing stalls caught my attention because they are ubiquitous everywhere in Africa, except they do not exist in Namibia, at least not in Katima. Oh, and churches. There were churches. I passed several. Churches right out on the main road with people in attendance. There are a few churches in Katima, but they are (with the exception of the newly built Apostolic Church) small, inconspicuous and not heavily attended.

 

I think that was Sesheke, but I am not sure, because it appeared on the road much sooner than the sign at the border said it should. So either their kilometer measurements were off or that was just a little suburban trading area.

 

On the other side of the shops there were several government buildings – the office of this or that Ministry – including the prison. No, I did not take a picture of that. But there was this tree which had quite a huge nest in it. I wonder what kind of bird (or other animal?) lives in such a large nest? And it sort of amazes me that it doesn’t fall down.

 

Reaching 10 miles, I turned around confident that one way or the other, I was getting the miles in because the only way to get home was to go back the 10 miles I’d just come. I drank some water for the first time and ate my entire Honey Stinger gel pack. I’d never eaten an entire one at once (usually I take half at a time) and my stomach was a bit sloshy as I started up again because I had to drink a fair amount of water to get the gel down. Interestingly, though my mouth had been very dry and I’d been thinking since about mile 8 that maybe I should take some water, I had been fine. But once I drank, it made me much more aware how dry it was out and I ended up stopping nearly every mile after that to at least wet my mouth.

 

So the second half my pace slowed considerably. I also stopped, walked and took photos on the way back. For the most part I was feeling okay, but somewhere around mile 15 or so, sometime after passing through the border, my lower back and legs felt “weird.” Sort of tight, but not really sore from strain. I wondered if I my sciatic nerve was getting squeezed—it was an odd kind of nerve pain like that I think. Between the dry mouth and the odd feelings, I lost a bunch of momentum, particularly on that long stretch between the border and the Vocational School where Katima civilization starts up again. A long, vast expanse of brown bush.

 

Ah, but here’s where the other photo comes from – an electric pole not long for this world as it is quickly being transformed into a termite mound. Untreated wood does not last in this environment.

 

Once I got back to a bit of “town” it was easier to pick a goal (I’m going to run at least to the Police Station) and keep going. And I also decided that 18 miles would suffice. It wasn’t pretty, but I felt confident enough that I could finish the entire marathon. Of course, by the time I got to 18 miles, there weren’t tons of taxis driving around! But my legs were really beat, so I just walked. I even walked backwards which seemed to help as I was using either different muscles or the same muscles in a different way. Several pickup trucks (bakkies) were going by and I waved my hand for a ride. It didn’t look like a proper taxi was ever going to come and I was still more than a mile from home. Finally, a bakkie driven by a nice older man with his grandson stopped. I climbed in the back and it felt so good to sit down. 18.7 miles or so. Fine. They dropped me at the end of my road and I thanked them profusely since I didn’t have any money to offer.

 

When I got home, I was really wiped out. I lay down on my floor for a bit but I was covered in salt which started to run into my eyes, so I got up and showered. That made me feel somewhat better. I ate the banana which had gone on my run with me. It looked pretty awful but tasted fine and I didn’t have enough energy to cook yet. Finally, after an hour or so, I cooked up a nice big plate of eggs with tomato and onion and spent the afternoon resting, reading and listening to podcasts while wearing compression sleeves on my legs (do they “work”? I dunno, but they made me feel better.)

Monday, August 01, 2011

Won a local 12k!

Well, well. Yay for me –

 

Last Thursday, we (Caprivi Hope for Life) rented the conference room at the Katima Youth Center to hold a training with our field promoters. While I was there, I met Ben, the Regional Coordinator for Sports in Caprivi Region. I met him because he was wearing quite a nice looking track suit which I was admiring and Clara, our Finance Officer knows Ben and introduced us. He then introduced me to the woman who is the Deputy in charge of Namibian Women in Sport Association (NAWISA), whose existence was a revelation to me. And then, somehow in the conversation, he mentioned that there was going to be a 12k race on Saturday, put on by some local school as a fundraiser. A race! How exciting. I hardly ever get to race. When was the last one? Oh yeah, the New Year’s Day 10K (also run in Vibrams) where I won my age group. Ben was a bit vague on details (at least for what I am used to), but he said it was going to start at 7am in town, near the market.

 

After our meeting, I saw Ben talking with Peggy, one of our promoters from Liselo. He called me over to tell me that Peggy was a great runner, one of the best women in the region. As we walked to town, I spoke with Peggy a bit and she said she would come Saturday morning for the race. Great! We promised to see each other there.

 

I didn’t expect an enormous crowd – the population of Katima is pretty small to begin with and I only knew of two other runners – one Chinese guy I’d see on the road in the evenings a few times and Janice, a Peace Corps friend who is down at Windhoek now for a conference. But I thought, oh maybe there’d be a hundred people or so.

 

Wanting to make sure I had time to find the start, get registered and not miss anything, I left the house at 6:30am. It was COLD. Cold enough that I jogged out to the road and kept moving so I wouldn’t freeze. I had on shorts and a long sleeve running shirt with a pair of light track pants and my Katima Mulilo Town Council track jacket. There was no one out on the road and only one truck went by going the other direction. I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t get a ride. But soon enough a taxi came by, just when I thought my feet would go numb from the cold. When we got to town, we went by the market, but just saw a few people there setting up a brai (barbecue), so I didn’t think it was there. I asked the driver to take me to the Youth Center, but that was closed, so I said to take me back to the market and drop me there, figuring I would ask around. When we got back to the market, I saw Peggy and a couple of other people who looked like runners, plus a few children running around. By now, it was minutes before 7am and it was clear that things weren’t going to start right away. There was some commotion, though – one man was clearly in charge, I later heard he was the principal of the school – and there were two police there who were our safety escorts. Apparently the brai was part of the fundraiser and so parents of the school’s children were setting that up and then showing up with pastries and pancake batter and meat and sodas that they were going to sell. A few more people showed up, including Ben, and the women in charge of registration were organized, so around 8am we could pay our $20 and get our numbers. There were going to be two races, a 1-mile race for the younger children and a 12k race which I thought was only for adults, but when the gun went off, it was clear that it was also for the youth (12-18). We got our numbers and still had quite awhile to stand around. This gave us time to size up the competition and for random folks to wander by and enter the race (the guy who got 3rd place was coming to open his shop, saw the race was happening and decided to run!). A bit of sun finally came up and we would huddle in the spots where it was shining to try and warm up.

 

I was wearing my Vibram Fivefingers (Bikila LS) which engendered quite a bit of interest. I considered running barefoot, but I didn’t know what the route was going to be (and therefore the conditions of the road/path) and 12k is about twice the distance I’d ever run barefoot and I knew it would wreck my feet. With a marathon in a month, that didn’t seem wise, so I opted for the VFFs. There was quite a variety of footwear among the runners. The shopkeeper had a pair of spikes (without the spikes in) that he wore. Quite a few people were in the Converse knock-offs that are quite popular around town, some had knock-off brands of “regular” running shoes. One guy showed up at the last minute wearing dress shoes, but  as he passed me (having gotten off to a bit of a late start) he was barefoot. Quite a few of the kids ran either barefoot or in their socks, including two boys carrying their shoes, which apparently did not work as well as they had hoped.

 

When we started, there were less than 20 adults, with Peggy and I the only two women, and another 15 or so youth. There was no starting line, but everyone pretty politely lined up next to each other and the principal said “go” and shot something or other and off we went. Since my toes were actually numb, I started slow and just decided to “run my own race”. Slow is relative, though, as my first mile split was 8:15—I just didn’t go like a bat out of hell like everyone else. About 10 of the girls pooped out after ½ a mile and started walking, but I have to give them credit because they did it—they ran the whole 12k race.

 

As things shook out, I could see Peggy ahead of me—far enough that I couldn’t reach her, yet within sight. I think we were probably going about the same pace, because she always seemed to be about the same distance. Around 3 miles, I started passing people. First the two boys carrying their shoes and running in their socks, one of whom had music playing from his phone—they would run, walk, run, so we placed leap frog for about a mile, but then they couldn’t keep it up. I caught up with two girls and a boy who were plugging along pretty well, but started to lose steam. One of the girls ran with me for awhile, but then faded. Then I caught a boy who had been running with Peggy, and we went through the turnaround checkpoint together where we had to pick up a “wooly” – a colored piece of yarn that would prove we made it to the checkpoint and was necessary to qualify for prizes. The nice thing about the out and back course was that I could cheer on folks who were way ahead of me. After the turnaround, the boy I was with kept having trouble with his shoelaces. They were quite long and didn’t stay tied, so he dropped back. I think caught up with the first girl, who was so far ahead of the others that even though she faded near the end, she won handily. Then, suddenly, Peggy was reachable and seemed to be slowing down, while I just kept clipping along (my splits for the race were 8:15-8:30 per mile, with the last mile a bit faster at 8:08). We passed an area which had shops, a bunch of people (including a boy who shouted at each of us “how much did you pay?” which seemed an odd question) and little piglets crossing the road!

 

By the time we got to the intermediate water stop (without about 2 miles to go), I caught up with Peggy. With me there for a bit of competition, she rallied and we ended up running side by side, alternating fading a bit and rallying.

 

At the beginning of the race, a police bakkie (pickup) had escorted us out and along the route (though it was quickly too far from me to be considered an escort). It came by at least one more time and another time a police car came by, both with sirens blaring. However, by the time we reached that intermediate water stop, there were a LOT more cars on the road and they were rude and somewhat aggressive. We had been running with the traffic, but Peggy and I decided to cross over. I was hoping that if they saw us with numbers on our shirts, they would understand we were racing and not run us off the road. We could see two of the guys up ahead of us.

 

When we turned onto the road going back into town, it was quite a zoo. Now we not only had cars, but also people walking or standing, bicycles, etc. to deal with and we had to cross the road to get back to the start. Finally, at one point, there was a break in the traffic and I looked back and was glad to see Peggy was right behind me. I signaled to her and we crossed over and then I picked it up as we were about a block from the finish. I thought she’d come after me and probably catch me. The main intersection in town, 200 meters from the parking lot of the market and our finish, was crazy. There was a huge truck trying to turn and a bunch of taxis honking, so I hopped up onto the sidewalk in front of the bank and cut diagonally across, whipping my head from side to side to check for traffic—no use getting killed when I’m this close to the finish! Peggy didn’t catch me, which meant I won! In fact, she was at least a full minute behind me. I hadn’t realized how close to exhaustion she was. My time was around 1:01:00 (according to my Garmin—there was no clock for the race).

 

The post-race waiting period was even longer than the pre-race wait. First, we sat around for quite awhile – cooled off, swapped stories, and found out that the two lead men had missed the turnaround checkpoint because they were literally following the police bakkie and turned when it turned, never seeing the water stop and not picking their woolies. So they were disqualified. Then there were two guys who ran very well (they may have been 3rd & 4th) who never registered, so they were also disqualified. I took off my VFFs which gave many folks a chance to pick them up and give them a good look. By this time, we were getting antsy but learned that we had to wait for the last finisher of the 12k to come in. Finally 3 of the girls who had pooped out right at the beginning came running in followed by a police car and we were hoping they would do our award ceremony. By now it was 11am and all the shops in town close at 1pm, so people wanted to get on with the day. However, we were told that the children had not yet run their race (on the roads now very crowded with Saturday morning shopping traffic). As they lined up to run their mile, I decided to go to the market, since I clearly had at least 30 minutes before the awards ceremony.

 

When I came back, it was hard to spot my compatriots among the market-goers, brai patrons and onlookers, but I found a couple who said they thought things would start soon. Sure enough, within minutes, the principal called for us to gather around. The prizes weren’t bad. For the 1-mile--$600 for first place, $300 for second place, $200 for third place girl and boy. For the 12k--$800 first place, $300 second place, $200 third place male and female in 3 categories: 12-17, 18-49, 50+. I was hoping they would use the standard definition of veteran (40+) as that would have put Peggy and I in different categories. Ben, being the only veteran, won his age group. I won the women, with Peggy second. The boy who won the 12-17 group was a 15 year old sprinter who was actually third overall (and actually, first not disqualified). When you convert $800 Namibian into USD it doesn’t sound like much money (~$120) but at nearly ¼ my monthly stipend, this was quite a great boon! To celebrate, I spent more than half of it on a Namibian Schools Sport Union track suit like the one I saw Ben wearing that Thursday. A fine souvenir, I think. Here I am sporting the jacket: